viernes, 6 de marzo de 2015

International Women’s Day: Much to Celebrate, But More to be Done

International Women’s Day has been observed since 1911, when women of that period started to more vocally and forcefully demand more equality in society, such as the right to vote and hold public office, to have better working conditions, and to end to discrimination in the workplace. Today we commemorate the achievements of women on March 8. And yes, many of the obstacles that existed at the time of the first International Women’s Day still exist today.

Positive trends show that, on a global basis, the number of girls with access to education is increasing, women are progressively accessing quality jobs, and receiving salaries commensurate with their work. However, girls continue to get pulled from school earlier than boys for various reasons, such as to yield opportunity to a male sibling, to take care of younger siblings or domestic chores, to contribute to family income, or more tragically because of early pregnancies, forced labor, prostitution or trafficking. Women in the workplace still receive wages below the average of male peers and are not provided the same considerations for promotions and benefits. Even when women have decent workplace conditions, commensurate salaries and legal protections, women might not have the freedom at home to use their money the way they want – often to reinvest in family or community – because their cultures dictate that only men should make such decisions.

Since legal protections can’t pull down cultural barriers, is it important to focus on the quality as well as the quantity of women’s participation in society. Confusing parity with equity can provide a sense of improvement that is often not the case. Having an equal number of women working does not guarantee that their rights are being respected in the workplace or at home. A high number of women participating in politics does not ensure that women’s issues are being folded into public policy.

The United States is, and continues to be, a strong champion for gender equality and the rights of women and girls around the world. The United States promotes women’s economic and political participation, empowers adolescent girls by investing in their education and addressing harmful practices such as trafficking and child labor, and prioritizes gender equality in international fora. Finally, the United States continues to advocate its Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence Globally and its National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security. As Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, Catherine Russell, stated: “Being a woman should not have to be a courageous act.”

One day and with your support, the commemoration of women’s day will focus solely on the achievements of women and girls in the world, rather than on lingering obstacles to the safety, participation and equity of women and girls and their rights.

To read the U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence Globally you can link here:

Or for the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, read here:

miércoles, 10 de diciembre de 2014

Human Rights Day

While December 10 is usually a time to commemorate the achievements made to date in terms of human rights, it also serves as a reminder of what is still possible; it reminds us not to be complacent with our current progress.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights marks aspirational goals for all peoples and all nations. As such, it is a task for all to ensure that each person’s individual and society’s collective human rights are being respected.

In the United States, as in many other countries, a critical ally in the joint effort of defending human rights is civil society. The work of civil society in critical issues such as women’s empowerment, civic participation, youth engagement, freedom of expression, and the rights of LGBT persons is crucial to expanding government efforts. We hope that as more governments appreciate the benefits of working with civil society, fewer will try to restrict their activities. After all, it is the unhindered exchange of ideas spurred by civil society that promotes the innovation that societies need to grow. Controlling information, however, cripples the lasting beneficial effects of the free flow of opinions and voices. Transparency and investigation in response to civil society concerns is an important part in ensuring human rights are respected and are an inherent part of a democratic system of checks and balances. 

The Universal Declaration states that human rights are inherent and inalienable; they are to be respected by all and for all equally. Likewise, they cannot be taken away without consequences.

I hope we can continue working towards the common standard of defending and enforcing human rights, not only for ourselves, but for all in Nicaragua and in the world.

viernes, 10 de octubre de 2014

International Day of the Girl

Today, we celebrated International Day of the Girl at Casa Alianza Nicaragua in Managua.  I am proud to commemorate this day with Casa Alianza and with our other partners across the globe.  In observance of this day, officially designated for October 11, Casa Alianza hosted an event to raise awareness of violence and abuse against girls through testimonials from young survivors and women that have benefited from its efforts, as well as theater and drawing expositions created by its shelter survivors.  The visit showed me again that women are strong.  Given the opportunity, they will overcome past abuse and violence and do great things for themselves and their communities.

Since 1998, Casa Alianza has been providing shelter, rehabilitation, and reintegration services for thousands of child and adolescent survivors of violence, human trafficking, drug addiction, social exclusion, and abandonment.  We need to follow the lead of this type of organization because we cannot afford to waste the talents of any individual.  Governments, civil society and the private sector need to strengthen their efforts to end violence against women, and open up educational and other opportunities.  When women and girls are given a chance to reach their full potential, it makes a better world for us all.

Casa Alianza Nicaragua website: 

viernes, 4 de julio de 2014

On Independence Day

Today, we celebrate 238 years since the founders of our country declared the United States an independent nation.  When they did so, it marked the inception of a democratic union, rooted in principles of liberty, equality, self-determination and democratic governance.  It was a bold declaration, and we commemorate it because it marks the beginning of our journey as a nation. 

But when we gather to celebrate our Independence Day, we know that our democracy consists of much more than a single day, a single vital declaration of a few brave patriots.  Instead, it consists of a process – a long, often painful process – of meeting and overcoming serious challenges, and emerging from that process a stronger nation. 

As we celebrate the endurance of our democracy over 238 years, we also must reflect upon the obstacles we have overcome.  We must ask ourselves, when these inevitable challenges arise, what must we do as a people?  What must any nation that aspires to true democracy do to meet these challenges?

President Lincoln had some advice about this very topic.  Since we last celebrated our independence day, we commemorated the 150 year anniversary of President Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address.  In that eloquent speech, delivered amidst the most dire crisis in American history, our Civil War, President Lincoln succinctly expressed how a democratic people must rise to confront threats to democracy. 

Lincoln began his speech with probably the most well-known invocation of the Declaration of Independence in American history:

"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."

He reminded us that thousands had sacrificed their lives fighting for those principles of liberty and equality.  And he said that when confronting a severe threat to our democracy, we, the living, must dedicate ourselves anew to those founding principles.  That we owe it to our forefathers who sacrificed so much, to bear down and redouble our efforts to preserve our democracy.  Or in Lincoln’s immortal words:  that “it is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us . . . that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

President Lincoln, of course, was reflecting upon the Civil War, in which tens of thousands of Americans gave their lives.  But he also was talking about something much larger, something universal – the notion of how citizens of a democracy must respond in the face of challenges if true democracy is to endure.  Democracy is born, but it must be reborn again many times as challenges are met and overcome.

Our democracy was born on the fourth of July, but it has been reborn, many times over the course of our long history – when we fought to end slavery and to preserve our Union in the Civil War, when we battled to defend democracy in the Second World War, when we struggled toward true equality for all Americans during the Civil Rights era, as we have struggled with our own war on poverty – for real socio-economic inclusion and in countless other examples.  In each case, we drew our strength from the principles upon which our democracy was founded – liberty, equality, self-determination – and we resolved that the sacrifices of our predecessors would not be in vain.
Our challenges as a nation continue to this day.  We are now emerging from two long and costly wars.  We have weathered a protracted economic downturn.  We have endured rancorous political fights in Washington.  And we must continue to meet these challenges to preserve and strengthen our democracy.

Of course, the hard work of democracy is different everywhere.  And the people of Nicaragua are on their own unique journey.  During the 19th century they fought for independence and unity.  Thirty-five years ago they removed a dictatorship.  They too have fought and emerged from a bloody civil war.  And there have been setbacks as the people of Nicaragua have sought to nurture their young democracy.  Although our circumstances are different, we often share the same strategies to fortify and preserve a fair and just society.  The people of any democracy must draw strength from the principles and values that first inspired them and must ready themselves for the real effort that democracy demands.  We look forward to working with the Nicaraguan people and supporting them as they themselves meet and overcome these challenges.

And so today, yes, we celebrate that day on which we first declared independence.  But we also solemnly remember that democracy does not come easily, that the next momentous challenge is always on the horizon, and that the willingness of a people to dedicate themselves again and again to the hard work of democracy is what makes it successful.

viernes, 13 de junio de 2014

World Anti-Counterfeiting Day

As we have mentioned in the past, counterfeit items such as personal hygiene products, cleaning products, electrical appliances, auto parts, and software can pose significant dangers to ourselves and our families. This month, as we observe World Anti-Counterfeiting Day, I would like to take the opportunity to focus on the threat to human health and safety posed by falsified and substandard medications.

The extent of this problem was illustrated recently by Interpol’s Operation Pangea VII, which shut down 10,600 fake online pharmacies. Counterfeit medications seized during the effort included diet treatments, cancer medication, cold and cough medication, anti-malarials, and drugs for treating high cholesterol.

A robust system of regulation and enforcement gives us confidence to assume that medical remedies are effective and safe. Sadly, there are those who prioritize profit over the health and safety of others, preying on the poor and vulnerable. They do so by intentionally manufacturing or selling medicines that are deliberately and fraudulently mislabeled, that do not contain the correct ingredients, have inadequate quantities of the right ingredients, or have toxic components that are harmful.  Where counterfeit drugs are sold in the marketplace, the poor can find themselves unknowingly spending their limited money for the false promise of treatment. Some studies estimate that fake medicines are responsible for over 700,000 deaths worldwide each year.

It’s been noted recently that overuse and improper dosage of antibiotics here in Nicaragua is contributing to the rise in drug-resistant bacteria. Similarly, forged versions of antibacterials and other drugs that contain insufficient active pharmaceutical ingredients help give rise to drug-resistant strains of bacterial and parasitic agents, making once effective medicines, less effective. Thus, counterfeit medicine has not only an immediate impact on the individual, but a secondary impact on global public health, as the likelihood of microbial resistance is increased, placing the global community at an increased risk to infectious diseases.

So what can we do? Ensuring that the medicine you buy is genuine and not counterfeit requires collaboration and coordination among government sectors and the private sector, increased transparency, accountability, and strengthened regulation. Improved enforcement of the laws that criminalize the production, distribution, and sale of fake medications here in Nicaragua would be a great place to start. Programs to strengthen surveillance of medicines to detect availability of counterfeit and substandard products in the marketplace can provide important local evidence for action. The medical community can help protect public health by buying medical products from reliable sources. This is a battle that everyone must fight together. We all have a stake in its outcome.

viernes, 30 de mayo de 2014

Fiscal Transparency

You may have already heard me or other U.S. government officials talk about the issue of transparency.  All governments should provide their citizens with information about their budget process, their income and their expenditures so that citizens can hold their political leaders accountable for the fiscal decisions they make.  Fiscal transparency allows the average citizen to evaluate if essential services are funded adequately. It is a key element in the battle against corruption.

You may also have seen from media reports that this year there is no need for a waiver in order to provide assistance to specific countries, like Nicaragua, which have failed to meet the State Department’s minimum standard of fiscal transparency. Though some may presume that this change indicates issues of transparency have lost importance, in fact Congress continues to stress the importance of fiscal transparency, requiring, for example, that the Department look more closely at a country’s budget auditing process. 

The Department of State will now issue an annual fiscal transparency report that describes the shortcomings of countries deemed non-transparent.  To put it another way, we’re making our fiscal transparency review process more transparent by making our concerns publicly available.  The new report should be released later this year and will give the public more insight into how we evaluate countries and what our concerns are.

This will help ensure U.S. taxpayer money is being used appropriately.  Also, the reviews provide an opportunity for our embassies around the world to talk to host country authorities about the importance of fiscal transparency.  We stress to all governments that fiscal transparency is essential to greater macroeconomic stability and facilitates better-informed public debates. That is why President Obama started the Open Government Initiative in 2009.

There is no need to wait for the report to come out, however, to learn more about fiscal transparency and why it matters.  Through support from the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Institute of Strategic Studies and Public Policy (IEEPP) launched “The Budget is Your Money, Knowing is Your Responsibility” public awareness campaign in November 2013 to help Nicaraguan citizens understand the importance of Nicaragua’s national budget to their economic well-being.  More information is available at the International Budget Partnership website. IEEPP also created a budget observatory website, which provides the public with current and historical information on the national budget at I hope you will use these tools so that you can become better informed about your government’s fiscal policy, and become a more effective advocate for sound government management of its finances.

Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton at the Open Government Partnership Opening Session in April 2012 said, “In the 21st century, the United States is convinced that one of the most significant divisions among nations will not be north/south, east/west, religious, or any other category so much as whether they are open or closed societies. We believe that countries with open governments, open economies, and open societies will increasingly flourish. They will become more prosperous, healthier, more secure, and more peaceful." The Open Government Partnership is a new multilateral initiative that aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. Although this was a State Department initiative, it has gained a momentum of its own with countries all over the world seeing the value of effective and accountable government. The message is clear: good governance, rule of law and fiscal transparency are the paths to success and prosperity. Link to Visit the Open Government Partnership website.

Although the appropriations bill no longer precludes U.S. foreign assistance to countries deemed not to meet the Department’s minimal standards for fiscal transparency, we will continue to make our foreign assistance decisions based on what is in the best interest of the United States, and our evaluation of a country’s fiscal transparency remains an important factor in making those decisions.

viernes, 31 de enero de 2014

Social Entrepreneurship

One of the best parts of being the U.S. Ambassador to Nicaragua is the ability to shine a spotlight on the positive changes that are happening here.

It is great to see Nicaragua as a leader in promoting social entrepreneurship that serves as a model for the entire region. In 2011, Agora hosted nine entrepreneurs from Central America, in 2012 it extended its programs into Mexico, and last year it expanded to 13 countries throughout Latin America.  And it keeps growing. 

Tonight we have entrepreneurs from all over Latin America who are finishing Agora Partnerships’ Accelerator program and are eager to return home not only to make their businesses more successful - but to improve social conditions in the process.   Thanks to Agora, these entrepreneurs have spent the week in Nicaragua connecting with mentors, getting technical assistance, and meeting potential investors. This entrepreneurs have businesses that are addressing environmental problems, encouraging greater participation by marginalized groups, and transforming their communities through innovative businesses that incorporate social change as part of their business plan.

I truly believe that entrepreneurship is a way to bring prosperity to many parts of the world.  But entrepreneurs need our support.  Entrepreneurs need effective laws in place to ensure they are competing on a level playing field.  They need mentors and networks that can help them shape and improve their ideas.  They need access to credit and the chance to attract investors.  In order to tackle those challenges government, the international community and the private sector need to work together to ensure that entrepreneurs are given the chance to compete, to grow their businesses, and to enable the benefits of social entrepreneurship to spread throughout the communities in which they invest.   

Part of our task is spreading the message that although Nicaragua may seem an unlikely place, a new type of business culture is growing here.  It’s a business culture that is more inclusive, more innovative, and deserves our attention.   Learning about the backgrounds of this entrepreneurs and the Agora team, you see a pattern emerge.  Bright, innovative people, often with private sector experience who were driven to create businesses that do more than turn a profit.  They’ve adapted the traditional business model to include social responsibility and environmental sustainability as core business principals, and are improving lives every day as result.  You’ll hear them speak of their commitments to improving Latin America and I encourage you to get to know them.

I ask of you to do your part to support the entrepreneurs in your communities and to draw attention to the good work they are doing.  Together we can create the conditions for greater economic prosperity, and send a message to the world that Central America is part of the social entrepreneurship vanguard.